Total Republicans Live

Campaign Desk/Liz Cox Barrett

After a night’s rest in Secaucus, New Jersey, Reggie the Registration Rig — the Republican National Committee’s 18-wheel voter registration truck — made its way across the George Washington Bridge Thursday morning and, with the kind assistance of the New York City Police Department, eased to a stop on Broadway between 43rd and 44th Streets, one block south of MTV’s studio and smack across the street from ABC.

For his efforts, Reggie will be rewarded with media coverage of the local, national, and international varieties, judging by the scrum of reporters, photographers and camera crews clogging the concrete island in Times Square this afternoon. The New York Post, the Village Voice, the New Republic, Reuters, and WCBS NewsRadio 880 were just a few of the many outlets observing RNC volunteers register voters on and around the rig as hits such as Brittney Spears’ “Toxic” blared from Reggie’s speakers. At times, the press appeared to outnumber potential voters or even Times Square tourists by more than a few.

Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee, will also get plenty of media exposure. He appeared Thursday afternoon on MTV’s “Total Request Live” — interviewed by the popular MTV host, Sway — and sat for a handful of one-on-one interviews with the likes of the Associated Press, New York Times, CNN Radio and Boston Globe.

But it’s a baby-faced 17-year-old kid from Queens who may well steal the media spotlight from Reggie and Gillespie both. Expect to hear or read the name Robert Menje in more than one account of the event (in addition to this one). Menje, a junior at Bryant High School, gave “like 20” interviews by his own estimation.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what attracted reporters to the small-framed Menje. Maybe it was his red “Viva La Reagan Revolucion” t-shirt and his navy Bush-Cheney ‘04 baseball cap and pin. Or it could have been his demonstrative worshipping of Gillespie — “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy” — or his general willingness to talk loudly and at length about how much he dislikes “liberalism.” Menje, who will be 18 in August and identifies himself as “to the right of Sean Hannity and the left of Michael Savage,” came to the event, he said, “because Drudge told me to.”

The youthful dueling sign-holders, gathered by Reggie’s front end, also drew their fair share of media notice. It was “GOP Rocks,” “Bush is #1 On My Countdown,” and “TRL Loves GOP,” versus “D.A.R.E. to stay away from the R.N.C. Just Say No!” and “The RNC: We Are Cool. No … Really.” All, of course, heavily photographed and interviewed.

Was it disappointing that the press seemed to be spending as much — if not more — time with the sign-holders as with Reggie, Campaign Desk asked RNC spokesman Jim Dyke. “We’re glad they’re here,” Dyke replied. “That means there’s going to be a story about Republicans being in Times Square.” Has Reggie received any bad press? “I’m not sure how you’d attack a truck,” Dyke said.

Also interesting to the media (and, by extension, Campaign Desk) were the folks who volunteered to help Reggie reach his goal of signing up three million new voters by Election Day, like 27-year-old Herschel Hamner and his wife, Lauren, who took a tag-team approach. He held the “Bush-Cheney ‘04” sign aloft while she carried the clipboard. Aren’t TRL viewers, like, 14-year-old girls, Campaign Desk asked Mr. Hamner. “True,” he said. “I don’t know if the target audience for TRL is of voting age.” Ms. Hamner interjected to express her hope that Gillespie’s appearance on TRL might inspire viewers to get involved “in elections down the road.”

By 5 p.m., the Hamners — who assured Campaign Desk that if someone registered as a Democrat they did not crumple the paper up and toss it into the nearest trash can — had registered “oh, four, six, or eight” voters. Another volunteer — the last one to call it a day — got nine registrants. Encouragingly, many of the people the volunteers approached were already registered.

Among the already registered was Reggie’s driver, native Nebraskan and longtime registered Republican Deke Henderson. Campaign Desk asked Henderson, who has steered Reggie from Wisconsin to Washington, D.C. to West Virginia to North Carolina to Georgia to Florida to New York, if there was anything surprising about today’s event. “This right here,” he said, gesturing to the press pack. “They’ve been everywhere we go, don’t get me wrong. But here, shoot, they’re everywhere.”

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.